Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Gems in our own backyard

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There's no better way to get to know a city than to be shown around by a local, willing to share all those interesting nooks and crannies that tourists rarely see.

Failing that, it's often well worthwhile going on an organised walk. They're usually pretty cheap and sometimes free. And, again, they open up a world of sights and stories that otherwise you would never discover.

Among the best I've enjoyed over the years are an Inspector Morse walk around Oxford, an Art Deco walk in Napier, a history walk in Adelaide, and a feng shui walk in Hong Kong.

It's even a good way to discover your own city. I've been on some great walks promoted by Tourism Auckland, which provided a Maori perspective on the region or revealed remnants of the early days of European settlement.

But, if you aren't able to hook up with an organised walk, these days there is an increasing number of excellent guide books which are nearly as good.

Here's a few of the latest:

A FIELD GUIDE TO AUCKLAND
By Ewen Cameron, Bruce Hayward and Graeme Murdoch.
Godwit, $45

If you were going to buy just one book as a guide to Auckland, past and present, this would be it.

The first edition, issued in 1997, sold out and, given the growing interest in exploring our heritage, it would be no surprise if this revised version sold out as well.

By way of introduction there are brief, yet effective chapters on Auckland's geology, fauna and flora and history.

But the main thrust is the descriptions of 158 heritage walks or sites around the region. These range from the bird haven of the Taporapora flats to the unspoiled splendour of Great Barrier Island, and from the economically vital port area to the dominating cone of One Tree Hill.

There's a feast of information about all the things which make this city special and, if its concise coverage of some topics leaves you wanting more, well that's surely to be welcomed.

UNDISCOVERED AUCKLAND
By Diana Balham
New Holland, $24.99

Next time you're in Auckland with time on your hands, especially if you're accompanied by energetic youngsters, have a flick through the pages of this book.

It offers a list of 70 places - some fairly well known, others largely undiscovered - well worth a visit, a walk or a picnic.

In my own neck of the woods, there's North Head Historic Reserve, which surprisingly few people seem to know about, yet its tunnels, guns, views, history and coastal walkway are an endless source of fascination (though the Department of Conservation has just closed the coastal walk and the most interesting tunnels for renovation).

I regularly take visitors up there and they never fail to enjoy it. There are places like that all over the region that Diana Balham has identified for our enjoyment.
It's an impressive list, and I look forward to exploring a few of the items on it, starting reasonably close to home with the East Coast Bays clifftop walkway and Pompallier Cemetery at Birkenhead, then expanding outwards.

WORTH A DETOUR: NEW ZEALAND'S UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS AND HIDDEN PLACES By Peter Janssen
Hodder Moa, $29.95

This is pretty much the same thing done nationwide. In several years of researching for guide books Peter Janssen reckons he has "travelled just about every road and visited every town and hamlet in New Zealand". This is a collection of some of the quirky and interesting places he has stumbled across.

The result is a delightfully eclectic - and eccentric - mix ranging from Gumdiggers' Park and the 250-year-old anchor of the St Jean Baptiste in the Far North to the 1000-year-old Hall's totara and the towering Humboldt Falls in the far south.

In between there are New Zealand versions of Stonehenge and the Pyramids, collections of Morris Minors and Elvis Presley memorabilia, the country's smallest Post Office at Chatto Creek and the oldest surviving farm buildings at Matakana.

It's a great collection of information and just the thing to take next time you hit the road.

THE WAY TO GO: A TRAVEL GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND'S HIGHWAYS, BYWAYS AND RAILWAYS
By Graham Hutchins
Grantham House, $24.95

There's a lot of interesting information in this book but, sadly, few people are likely to use it because of the appalling design.

It is, as the name suggests, basically a guide to stretches of road or lengths of railway lines which are well worth exploring.

Some of the routes suggested are pretty obvious (the Waitakere Scenic Drive or the Coromandel Pohutukawa Coast road) but others probably do tend to be overlooked by tourists (the drive to the Waikato River delta or State Highway 3 around the Taranaki Coast) and there are lots of good ideas about places to stop along the way.

But, as I say, the design is so user-unfriendly, that only the most dedicated explorer is likely to make use of it.

LANDMARKS OF THE BAY OF ISLANDS: PAST AND PRESENT
By Marios Gavalas
Raupo, $45

If you want to see New Zealand history, and some of our most beautiful scenery as well, the Bay of Islands is definitely the place to go.

A remarkable number of the buildings associated with the beginnings of European settlement have survived up north and they unquestionably radiate a sense of history.

Some years ago I spent a night in Kemp House - our oldest building, erected in 1822 - and had a wonderful sleep thanks to its aura of tranquillity.

Similarly, I've explored places like Kororareka/Russell, where you can still see the holes left by musket balls in Christ Church, the Waimate Mission House, with its beautifully recreated gardens and Ruapekapeka Pa, with its remarkable trench-fortifications, and never ceased to be fascinated by their links to the past.

Marios Gavalas' latest book is an inspiration to head to the Bay of Islands and a great guide for when you get there.

- Jim Eagles

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